We, like everyone else, have been inundated with news about Tiger Woods' "transgressions" in recent days. But one area curiously unexplored is the question of why Woods, with a life envied by the vast majority of people, is apparently unhappy. And not just now that his affairs have been found out--no, one must assume that the reason he embarked on the affairs in the first place (and kept them hidden from his wife) was also unhappiness of some sort.
Let us be clear. We are in no way passing judgment on Tiger or his activities. Quite frankly, we couldn't care less about his (or anyone else's) sexual practices, and don't view this as making him less "likable," or somehow a lesser person than he was before. To us such discussions are wholly irrelevant, like ripples on the ocean.
What we do think is interesting (as we have discussed in the past) is that few people seem to realize the paradoxical message in all of this. Namely, while some huge proportion of individuals think it would be wonderful to be Tiger Woods, Tiger himself is not happy.
Of course, most people don't think of it like that. They think something along the lines of: "I would appreciate everything he has--I wouldn't throw it all away for some cocktail waitress." (Or perhaps: "I just wouldn't have gotten married!") And it is easy to say such things when one is not, in fact, Tiger Woods. But given that Tiger himself seems not to be happy, perhaps we should ask why that is, and what it says about the human condition.
Our thesis is this: Tiger is not happy because he (like most people) has invested his potential happiness in things, events, and relationships. The fact that his goals may differ from yours (winning the Masters versus getting promoted) is irrelevant. The point is that when you "outsource" your happiness to externalities you cede control over it, destined to be continually disappointed when things do not turn out as planned.
The uplifting corollary to this, however, is that any of us can be happy at any time, regardless of wealth, status, power, relationships, etc. Tiger Woods could be happy, too, but not so long as he continues to chase the brass ring of achievement. Whatever happiness he does find will be (by definition) temporary and fleeting, as he accomplishes one extreme goal and moves on to the next, always finding himself curiously unfulfilled by what seemed, at the time, to be the answer he was seeking.
Indeed, we are reminded of the experience of David Duval, who quit golf shortly after winning the 2001 British Open, and a few years later had this to say about why winning proved a tremendous letdown":
"I think I figured it would mean personal validation as opposed to professional validation. You know, look at me: I'm OK. I'm a good guy, not just a good golfer. So in that respect, it was not the end-all, be-all that I made it out to be in my head."
We are all, of course, seeking this "personal validation," but the secret is that the answer is not to win golf tournaments, or be a titan of industry, or even to be a good husband and father. Only when we cease looking elsewhere to satisfy our eternal yearning for meaning, when we discover that the key to our happiness lies, shiny and unused, in our own hand, only then will we discover the blissful and liberating experience of embracing the abyss.